Sunday, March 6, 2011




If you go to see Michael Hollinger's Ghost-Writer at FLORIDA STAGE'S new home in the KRAVIS CENTER -- and you should! -- just close your eyes for several moments and listen as his characters speak. Mr. Hollinger writes prose for the stage, but his is the language of poetry. In an era when swear-words are all the rage, here is a man who loves the English language, and just to hear the rhythms and cadences of his speech is a joy!

Perhaps that sounds old-fashioned, but it's in keeping with the play, which is set in "An austerely furnished room in New York City, 1919." A prim woman, Myra Babbage, (Kate Eastwood Norris,) sits before a typewriter. She's looking for employment as a typewriter which, when the machine was first introduced, referred to the person who typed rather than to the mechanism. Today, she would probably be regarded as a private secretary. Her would-be employer, novelist Franklin Woolsey, (J. Fred Shiffman,) stands at the rear of the room gazing out the window. He's an older man, rather stern and very precise. When at first he dictates his narrative to her, he speaks rapidly and includes the punctuation he wants her to use. She gets everything exactly right. He's pleasantly surprised and hires her on the spot.

Mr. Woolsey has a wife, Vivian, (Lourelene Snedeker,) a proper fashion plate, whose relationship with her husband appears more cordial than loving. Vivian comes in and goes out of the room from time to time, becoming progressively more jealous of Myra, since the typewriter spends more time with her husband than does she.

There is no sex, no physical intimacy between the author and his typist, but there is a continuously warming work relationship that evolves into a close bond. She knows -- feels -- his thoughts so clearly, he permits her to correct his punctuation and, later, his words. She suggests words of her own that he prefers to his. The bond grows, almost imperceptibly, silently, into love.

Then, although he still stands in the room, we are informed that Mr. Woolsey has died. Myra, the ghost-writer, types his every word as he continues to dictate. But is it her words she writes or his? That's what Vivian wants to know. She threatens to destroy the manuscript she is convinced is not her husband's. Myra is equally convinced she types the words of the ghost. And she listens to his posthumous declaration that he has always loved her.

I'm not usually drawn to ghost stories, but this is part ghost story, part love story. It's sweet. It's enchanting. It's beautifully written and acted by a wonderful trio of players. I could hardly ask for anything more.

Yet ask I shall. This is a technical matter: The new Florida Stage is a thrust theater with some few seats on either side of the stage flanking it. My partner and I have sat several times in these seats, but there's a problem. When cast members speak out to the audience, their backs are turned to those sitting in some of these side seats, making it difficult at times to hear what is being said. Can small speakers not be placed somewhere along the sides? Again, this refers only to a few seats. The play itself is a big winner.

Ghost-Writer runs through April 3. For tickets and additional information telephone 585-3433 or online:

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